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Transformers Classified: Satellite of Doom
By Ryder Windham, Jason Fry
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Ryder Windham Jason Fry
All rights reserved.
It didn't take long for the two wolves to find the body.
Moving deftly through the narrow ravine, the predators kept to the shadows, staying out of the light of the blue sun. They were creatures of darkness; they had wiry coats, spiky tails, and sharp claws, and their wide jaws were stained with dark, oily blood.
The smaller wolf sprang atop a crag and sniffed at the air, its eyes glowing like orange sparks. The larger one flattened its ears and snarled at its companion, who slunk down, waiting to be led through the twists and turns. The two moved around piles of rocks that had fallen and were now carpeted with dull red moss, then took cover behind a cluster of tall, tubular purple growths that were swollen with water.
The larger wolf had one clawed forefoot slightly raised when its whole body froze. Ahead, in the center of the ravine, it saw a lone human, lying motionless. The wolf took several sniffs, analyzing the rich soup of scents, then growled. Both predators were eager to sink their teeth into their helpless prey, to drain its body of nourishment and energy.
They sprang forward, their jaws opening to reveal black, razor-sharp teeth. They were only a few strides away from their meal when it moved, lifting its head as it yelled, "NOW!"
Sergeant Duane Bowman flung himself sideways, ignoring the pain that shot up through his left leg. He held out a knife, ready to fight. But before he could, a wire net sailed out from beyond the surrounding rocks and fell over the wolves. The beasts snarled and struggled as four other U.S. Army soldiers scrambled down the walls of the ravine.
As Duane pushed up from the ground, he kept his eyes on the wolves and a tight grip on his knife. The smaller one had been caught in the center of the trap, but the larger was already working its head and one leg free. It turned its blazing eyes on Duane and snarled.
Duane shouted, "Cobb! Anson!"
Corporal Cobb, a dark-skinned man, seized one edge of the net and dragged it back over the smaller wolf so it couldn't escape. Corporal Anson, a thin man with a rash of freckles across his face, raced over to jab a spear of jagged metal into its tough hide. The creature snarled, its jaws snapping. As Cobb clutched the net and Anson continued his attack, Duane moved toward the other creature and shouted, "Rose! McVey!"
From the other side of the ravine came two more soldiers, their own spears at the ready. Corporal Rose was short and stocky. Corporal McVey was tall with broad, muscular shoulders. They thrust their spears through the net and jabbed the larger wolf. The impact of McVey's spear sent a spray of sparks up toward his head, startling him and causing him to stumble backward.
The smaller wolf screeched. Its companion howled, threw off the net, and sprang at Anson, moving with surprising speed. Duane lunged for its hindquarters, but his leg buckled under him, and he tumbled to his knees. Anson didn't move fast enough to stop the creature's teeth from locking into his arm. He screamed and reached for the wolf's throat as Duane and Cobb grabbed it. Duane drove an elbow into the back of its head, causing its jaws to pop open and release Anson's arm.
Anson used his good arm to drive his spear through the wolf's neck, sending more sparks flying. The creature collapsed, twitched once, and then went still. While the other four soldiers stood nearby, gasping for breath, Duane reached out cautiously to the side of the wolf's body, pushing his fingers past the wire- like hair. He couldn't feel a trace of warmth.
Duane turned to Rose and said, "Keep your eyes peeled for other ones."
"Yes, sir," Rose said.
Duane eyed Anson and saw nasty-looking punctures in the man's forearm. Duane asked, "Are you okay?"
"It's nothing, Sarge," Anson said, clutching his injury.
Duane noticed Anson looked pale. He nodded at McVey and said, "Patch him up."
"Yes, sir," McVey said as he moved toward Anson.
Cobb knelt beside the larger wolf.
"Sir, look at this," he said.
Duane hobbled over, wincing at the pain in his ankle. A few days earlier, he'd sprained or broken it in a tumble down a slope of loose rock and set it in a makeshift splint. He eased himself down beside Cobb, who had pushed back the wiry fur to expose the hide. The soldiers' spears had pierced the wolf's tough hide in numerous places.
"No blood," Cobb said.
Duane reached into one of the creature's wounds and pulled out a loose bunch of cables and metal conduits. Sparks shot out of its mouth as Duane withdrew his arm. The wolf jerked.
"It's a robot," Cobb said. "And here I was looking forward to meat for dinner!"
Duane threw the mechanical innards aside. "I don't think it's a robot," he said. "At least not an ordinary one, the kind built by people. I'm guessing it's Cybertronian."
"Cybertronian?" Cobb said. "But ... these things don't look at all like what we fought back on Earth."
"Remember what I told you?" Duane said. "Cybertronians aren't like ordinary robots. They're living creatures, with mechanical parts instead of flesh and bone, and they can change their shape and appearance. They can look like ... well, like just about anything."
Cobb nodded. "You also said there were two kinds of Cybertronians."
"That's right," Duane said. "Autobots and Decepticons." Duane glanced at McVey, who had torn off a length of fabric from his own shirt to make a bandage and was busily wrapping it around Anson's arm. Duane continued, "And according to headquarters, the Autobots are on our side."
Cobb said, "Well, then these critters must be Decepticons, because the only side they seemed interested in was our insides!"
"Hey, Sarge," McVey said. "Maybe the robot—I mean, the Decepticon—we fought in Nevada ... you think maybe he sent us here?"
Duane thought back to his squad's last moments on Earth. They had been in combat with a Decepticon, a massive gleaming biped with burning orange eyes, near Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. He remembered that the Decepticon hadn't fired its missiles or cannons at the squad, but it had flung a strange cylinder, which had landed on the ground right in the middle of Duane's men. A moment later, they felt their bodies being pulled toward the cylinder and were suddenly consumed by darkness. When they awoke, they were on the cold world where the sun bathed everything in its eerie blue light. They called it Blue Planet.
"Maybe," Duane said finally. "Maybe the Decepticon sent us here. Fact is, we just don't know. Maybe that big cylinder he threw at us just opened up a wormhole to another dimension, and we fell into it."
"Wormhole?" Cobb said. "You mean, like those time-warp things in science-fiction movies?"
Duane smiled. "I read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid. Back then, no one imagined that giant living machines might arrive on Earth and drag us into their war. Now, we're on another world. It's anybody's guess if a wormhole got us here, but I know this much ... my parents are dead because of the Cybertronians' war, and we are not in a movie."
"I'm sorry, sir," Cobb said. "I didn't know about your parents."
Duane sighed. "They were killed in a battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. At first, I blamed all the Cybertronians. Then I learned the Autobots had been doing their best to prevent the Decepticons from harming people. Still ... I wish the Cybertronians had never arrived on Earth." He shook his head. "I can't stop wondering how my little brother got mixed up in the fight. And if he's still alive."
Duane sighed again. When he'd last seen him, Kevin had tried to explain a series of misadventures that had brought him from Hurley's Crossing all the way to Hawthorne. Kevin had said something about chasing a Decepticon named Reverb to a hidden weapons storehouse. But before Duane could make sense of what his brother was saying, the Decepticon attacked, Kevin took cover, and Duane and his squad were almost instantly transported—with no idea how to get home.
Blue Planet's days and nights were short, a little more than fifteen hours from dawn to dawn. The air smelled rotten. Duane lifted his gaze to the sky. Even though the sun had not yet set, other stars were already visible. On Earth, Duane knew several constellations well enough to identify them, but the stars in this sky didn't resemble any configurations he remembered.
Rose raised one hand, signaling everyone to hold still. Duane followed Rose's gaze to a distant field of tubular flowers. Duane whispered, "More wolves?"
"Maybe not," Rose said. "I thought I saw something move but ... might have just been a breeze."
Duane and his squad had discovered that the tube-flowers, when punctured, released small amounts of liquid. For nearly three weeks, they had survived by drinking the liquid and eating the red moss that grew over just about everything. The moss tasted like dried fish; the liquid was sickeningly sweet and weirdly thick, like congealed cough syrup. The soldiers had no way to know whether their food and "water" were entirely safe. All they knew was that the stuff hadn't killed them yet.
The wolves had been stalking Duane's squad since shortly after their arrival. He and his men had slept in shifts; the lookouts kept watch with their backs to the campfire, listening for approaching footsteps in the darkness. They had seen strange tracks that hadn't been left by wolves, and they could only imagine what other creatures were out there, waiting for a chance to swoop in and devour them.
"If they knew we were out of ammo, they'd get on with it," Duane muttered to himself.
"You say something, Sarge?" McVey said as he looked up from bandaging Anson's arm.
"Talking to myself," Duane said. He shook his head and scanned the ravine. The bottom was still largely in shadow. He wanted to get moving, but he didn't know where.
"Sarge?" Cobb said.
"What is it, Corporal?" Duane replied.
"Well, if these things are robots or Cybertronians or whatever, that's another sign that there's advanced technology on this world."
Rose said, "The only technology I'm interested in right now is the kind that might get us home."
Duane looked at the four soldiers' faces and saw hope fighting against despair and exhaustion. He wondered if his own face showed a similar mix of emotions.
He considered pointing out that the wolves were the only machines they'd seen that actually worked. He also considered reminding them that the alien structures they'd found had been destroyed, useless except as sources of metal and wire. He suspected that whoever had built the ruins was long gone and wondered whether he should share that theory with his men.
But he didn't want to disappoint them. Cobb, Anson, Rose, and McVey were under his command. He was responsible for them, and he'd promised them that they'd return to Earth somehow.
"Come on," Duane said. "We've got to keep moving. Gather up the net and let's move out."
Cobb said, "Where to, Sarge?"
"Back the way we came," Duane said. "Back to the alien ruins—the fort, or whatever it was—and then our arrival point. Maybe we missed something back there.... Something that will help us find our way home."
The soldiers looked at one another. Duane squared his shoulders and barked, "You got that?"
"Sir! Yes, sir!" yelped the four, rushing to gather up the wire net. Duane nodded and turned to look back along the course of the ravine, trying to retrace their route in his mind. He hoped he could remember the way.
And despite his determination to keep his men believing they would escape from Blue Planet, he felt a nagging fear that he would never see his brother again.
MYSTERIES OF THE PILLAR
Light-years away from Blue Planet, twelve-year-old Kevin Bowman was standing in the somewhat-crowded science lab at NEST's Rapid Response Base, trying not to look as impatient as he felt.
NEST was the acronym for Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty, the secret military unit established by an agreement between the Autobots and the U.S. armed forces in opposition to the Decepticons and their leader, Megatron. NEST had facilities scattered around the world, and the Rapid Response Base happened to be housed in a collection of hangars on the northern edge of Nellis Air Force Range in Nevada.
The Rapid Response Base had been Kevin's temporary home since his older brother disappeared during the fight with Reverb. NEST officials had reluctantly agreed that Kevin could live at the base until Duane's fate became clear. Meanwhile, Kevin was expected to stay out of trouble and do the schoolwork given to him by NEST tutors.
Kevin had to admit he hadn't done a particularly good job at either of those things. Even if the subject was math or science, he was still more interested in trying to find his missing brother than studying. And when he had discovered an opportunity to search for clues to help find his brother, Kevin rushed away from NEST, accompanied by the Autobots Bumblebee and Gears, and Douglas Porter—the son of the president and CEO of military contractor Hyperdynamix Laboratories.
Kevin had followed Duane's trail to a Cybertronian storehouse outside the town of Battle Mountain. There, he and Douglas discovered another large metal cylinder like the one that had transported Duane. The cylinder was intact and seemed to be functional, but just being in possession of it didn't bring Kevin any closer to getting Duane back. For all Kevin knew, his brother might already be dead.
Kevin shook his head. He wouldn't allow himself to think that way. He would find a way to save Duane, and they would return to the little house where they'd grown up, where they'd played endless games of pickle with their father, and where their mother had taught them the names of the constellations overhead. Kevin's parents had died, but he wouldn't let the same thing happen to his brother.
"Kevin Bowman? Are you currently receiving auditory input?" asked a deep, booming voice.
Kevin looked up into the metal face of Gears, who had bent down to peer at him with his glowing blue eyes. Behind the Autobot, Chief Lindsay and his technicians were looking curiously at the boy.
"Sorry, everybody," Kevin said. "I'm listening. I just ... have a lot on my mind. What were you saying, Chief Lindsay?"
"I was saying that we've traced the power flows inside the cylinder to points here, here, and here," Lindsay said, letting the dot projected from his laser pointer play over the face of the mysterious cylinder they had recovered from the Battle Mountain storehouse.
The cylinder, with four small rectangles of glass and a switch, sat inside a cube of three-inch-thick glass, festooned with sensors meant to detect its activity. Across the lab sat a similar cube with an apparently identical cylinder—the one Reverb had activated at Hawthorne Army Depot. The only obvious difference between the two cylinders was that the rectangles and switch on the one from Hawthorne had melted into a shapeless mass.
"So," Lindsay continued, "we think we know how the cylinder's activated. You set the coordinates by pressing the rectangles, then use the switch to start a countdown. And now we've learned some things about the internal circuitry, or structure, or whatever it is inside there."
Kevin studied the cylinder. "Well, I guess that's good to know, but ... does all that info get us any closer to figuring out where my brother went?"
Chief Lindsay frowned. "Well, I like to think that the more we learn, the closer we'll get."
"I'm sorry, Chief Lindsay," Kevin said. "I know you've been spending all your time on this and you're doing everything you can to help."
Lindsay smiled. "Well, you should know we've learned some other things, too. For example, we've been able to monitor the rate at which certain isotopes in the Hawthorne cylinder are decaying. We compared that data with the video footage Douglas Porter gave us, and we determined, with a reasonable amount of confidence, that Reverb set a very short countdown—probably thirty seconds—before he used the cylinder to make your brother and his squad vanish."
"Which tells us what?" Kevin said impatiently.
Chief Lindsay sighed. "Kevin, everything we learn about the cylinders makes it more likely that we'll eventually figure out how they work. For instance, by mapping the internal circuitry, we may learn if different coordinates require different power levels. If so, we could be able to determine what power levels were experienced by the Hawthorne cylinder and replicate the coordinates entered by Reverb."
Excerpted from Transformers Classified: Satellite of Doom by Ryder Windham, Jason Fry. Copyright © 2013 Ryder Windham Jason Fry. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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